"We're trying to figure out a way for him to have that impact on our ballclub," Francona said. "I don't think anybody, including Schill himself, thinks he's ready to come back as a starter and be that impact pitcher.
"He has experienced the bullpen, but it's been a long time. It takes him awhile to get loose, we acknowledge that. It's not perfect. But I think he can impact our ballclub significantly. Not just a little bit. This guy's one of the premier pitchers in the game."
Still, there will be adjustments to make. Schilling hasn't pitched primarily out of the bullpen since 1991, when he made 56 relief appearance for Houston. The 38-year-old right-hander is used to a lengthy warmup before games, and four days' rest between appearances, neither of which he'll get as a reliever.
"The big part will be the preparation," pitching coach Dave Wallace said. "How long you need to get loose, how well you bounce back, whether you can go two games in a row ... those kinds of things."
Indeed, not everybody is convinced Schilling, who is working his way back from offseason surgery to repair a detached tendon in his right ankle, will be able to make the switch.
Mike Timlin, the likely candidate to inherit the closer's role now that Keith Foulke is on the disabled list, said the move is not a good idea.
"If you're in the bullpen, you're in the bullpen every day," Timlin said. "The guy's not a bullpen pitcher. I understand what they're saying, that they can put him in the bullpen and have him help out, but it's like they're saying you can just take a guy and put him out in the 'pen and have him do what we do. It's not just about getting guys out. It's about doing it day after day after day, in all sorts of situations. It's not the same thing."
Nevertheless, Schilling will give it a shot, once he is cleared to return from Pawtucket, where he has made two rehab starts. He was inconsistent in his most recent outing, allowing five earned runs in five innings Monday night.
But he showed signs of the old Schilling in that game as well. Francona noted that his final three pitches all hit 94 mph or better, and included a "devastating" splitter.
"I think he can ... give us the kind of bullpen where we say, 'OK, we're winning after six, come get us.' That's what we're shooting for," Francona said.
Francona said Schilling came to him and volunteered for the bullpen role, though the coaching staff had already discussed the move as a possibility.
There will be restrictions. Schlling will not enter the game in the middle of an inning, and he will not pitch extended stretches. And Francona said he does not know how long the bullpen stint will last, except that it is not permanent -- the goal is still to get Schilling back into the rotation.
"Whether it's two weeks or two months, it's not two years," Francona said. "Our job is to win, so we're going to do the best we can to win. This guy is one of the premier starters in the game, and he runs in here and says, 'I'll go to the bullpen.' You know what? I'm on board with that. We'll figure out the next step when we have to.
"If he's pitching one- or two-inning stints and he's throwing 94-96 if he needs it ... [other teams are] not going to run on him, he doesn't balk, he fields his position, doesn't walk people. Sounds to me like a pretty good reliever."